Herring Gull

Larus argentatus smithsonianus, or Larus smithsonianus
Global Range Map
North American Range Map

The American Herring Gull ranges far and wide across most of the North American continent. Breeding occurs throughout most of Canada and Alaska. Herring Gulls usually drink freshwater, but they can drink seawater if they must. Special glands allow them to excrete the salt. The American Ornithologists’ Union regards this bird as a subspecies of the Herring Gull (Larus argentatus smithsonianus), but following a 2002 study, other authorities, such as the Association of European Rarities Committees and British Ornithologists’ Union, now recognize it as a separate species (Larus smithsonianus). Under the taxonomies accepted outside of the USA, the Herring Gull complex is defined as American Herring Gull, European Herring Gull, Vega Gull, Armenian Gull, Caspian Gull, and Yellow-Legged Gull. The debate over the taxonomy of this clan of gulls has not been settled, but included in the discussion are:

  • American Herring Gull (Larus smithsonianus) or (L. a. smithsonianus) breeds in North America from Aleutians and the southern coast of Alaska, across Canada to the Maritime Provinces, and south in the eastern USA to North Carolina. They spend winters south to Central America.
  • European Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) or (L. a. argenteus) [AOU only classification] breeds in Iceland, Faeroes, the British Islands, western France to W Germany. They spend winters south to northern Iberia (Spain and Portugal).
  • European Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) or (L. a. argentatus) [AOU only classification] breeds in Denmark and Scandinavia to the eastern Kola Peninsula. They spend winters mostly in northern and western Europe.
  • Vega Gull (Larus vegae) or (L. a. vegae) breeds in northeastern Siberia and spends winters south to Japan, Korea, and southeastern China.
  • Armenian Gull (Larus armenicus) or (L. a. armenicus) is found in the Caucasus and in the Middle East.
  • Caspian Gull (Larus cachinnans) or (L. a. cachinnans) breeds around the Black and Caspian Seas, and east across Central Asia to northwestern China.
  • Yellow-Legged Gull (Larus michahellis) or (L. a. michahellis) is found in western and southern Europe, northwestern Africa, and the Mediterranean.
  • Mongolian Herring Gull (L. a. mongolicus) breeds in southeastern Altai and Lake Baikal to Mongolia, northeastern China and Korea. They spend winters mostly in southern Asia.

I met my first Herring Gull in Whitehorse, Yukon (Canada) in 2005. I’ve since found them in at the Salton Sea in southeastern California, on the Texas Gulf Coast, and in Baja California (Mexico) while on a science expedition to Archipielago de Revillagigedo aboard the Shogun, when we stopped at Isla Margarita for a half day of science and explorations.

Click map markers to reveal further information